Start Up a Conversation…

Monday, June 30

6-30By Sergei Bogolepov of Novosibirsk, Russia

May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus…

—Romans 15:5 NRSV

While waiting in a Novosibirsk shopping mall, I sat next to a middle-aged man with a black beard. He was deeply involved in playing chess on his iPod. Sweat on his forehead showed a high level of concentration. He was struggling with tactical issues.

I am not a chess master, but I have a decent first sport category in blitz chess, and I am good with tactics. I offered some help, and we solved the puzzle together in a couple of minutes. It was good opportunity to start a conversation about this challenging game, and I recommended to Oleg some Internet sites where he could polish tactical skills.

I asked him what he did for a living. He is an ordained minister in the Russian Orthodox Church, which is well known to me. I introduced myself as an ordained minister of Community of Christ. Father Oleg immediately became defensive.

Official Russian orthodoxy states that any church besides Russian Orthodox is a totalitarian sect. As far as I know, orthodoxy forbids priests to have contacts with “heretics.” Father Oleg felt caught between his personal freedom to talk to me and obedience to church authorities.

Looking for common ground, I talked to Oleg about my theology studies. My interest was in Hesychastic spiritual practices that were deeply rooted in traditions, such as his. We talked about Bishop Gregory Palamas, who warned Hesychastic monks that besides doing spiritual practices, they also should do works of charity.

Father Oleg shared with me that they have a special day to commemorate Bishop Gregory, and he invited me to visit his church.

The game of chess, Gregory Palamas, and doing charity work were all good subjects to establish rapport with Father Oleg. This also allowed me to share about Community of Christ. Father Oleg listened attentively and told me that although he is not happy that I belong to a “foreign sect,” the information was interesting, and he would like to stay in contact with me.

We shared our phone numbers and agreed to pray for each other. I hope the conversation continues.

Prayer for Peace Universal God, help us find common ground to keep the conversation going. Help us find opportunities to affirm the worth of persons and share Christ’s peace.

Spiritual Practice: Welcoming Unity in Diversity
Meditate on Unity in Diversity. Create a large circle with your arms. See and feel the diverse people God invites inside the sanctuary of Christ’s peace represented by this circle. Who is easiest to welcome? Whom do you struggle to include? Confess the dividing walls between you. Ask God to forgive and heal barriers to love.

Peace Covenant Today, God, I will find common ground to include all people in the conversation.

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2 Comments

  1. David Brock

     /  30 June 2014

    Thank you, Sergei. An excellent witness! Is there a “rest of the story” after that initial contact? One hopes that his chess game improved, but also that his sense of what Christian and human community is all about also expanded. Thank you for your outreach!

  2. Adriana

     /  30 June 2014

    It´s wonderful to be capable of talking and share with someone about what you believe. In Mexico it´s very common that people from a catholic and a protestant church try to win a debate of what is the better church. Things like: catholics or protestants are wrong in this…., make you fall in a little war. The point here is that even though people have differences (religion, race, customs…) we can find opportunities to affirm the worth of persons and share Christ’s peace. 🙂 Sorry for my english

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